The Emmy Noether Group ‘Kgalagadi Human Origins’ (KHO) is researching the impact of the extreme climate changes the Mid-Pleistocene Transition on human evolution in the southern Kalahari basin. The project starts in June 2021 and will run for six years.

Project summary: The evolution of our human species in Africa has been intimately tied to climate dynamics and landscape change. The time period between c. 800 000 and 400 000 years before present is of critical importance as the period leading up to the emergence of modern humans. It includes in part a period of extreme changes in climate history known as the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT) when the frequency and severity of glacial-interglacial cycles increased dramatically. However, there is a lack of terrestrial environmental data from interior southern Africa to assess the impact following these global climate changes on sub-tropical habitats and in shaping the evolution of Homo sapiens and other Mid-Pleistocene hominin species. The goal of the Kgalagadi Human Origins project is to determine the impact of the MPT on Mid-Pleistocene human evolution in the southern Kalahari basin. To reach this goal, a program of state-of-the-art predictive modelling is informing extensive archaeological fieldwork in two distinct regions of the southern Kgalagadi district in Botswana and neighbouring South Africa. This interdisciplinary approach is combining novel dating methods and multiple independent paleoenvironmental proxies from the fieldwork sites to assess changes in the vegetation and seasonal rainfall systems which led to the modern, arid environment that is a marginal habitat for humans today. The outcome of this project is advancing our knowledge about human-environment adaptations in times of severe and rapid climate change and determines its role for the emergence of Homo sapiens as survivor between many hominin species.

Project flowchart showing the six work packages:

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